Waco Independent School District’s overall dropout rate rose during the 2013-14 school year after the administration decided to remove students who miss more than 18 days of school from the roster at Brazos High School Credit Recovery in an effort to give more students the opportunity to recover academically.
“We didn’t take it lightly, but we did enforce that rule,” said Robin McDurham, Waco ISD’s executive director of secondary education.
Brazos High School’s dropout rate rose from 8.2 percent in the 2012-13 school year to almost 33 percent in the 2013-14 year, school reports showed.
The drastic uptick in dropouts affected the district’s overall score.
In a presentation to the board of trustees last week, Waco ISD officials presented goals about their efforts to lower the dropout rate for grades nine through 12 to less than 3.1 percent during the 2013-14 school year.
Both traditional high schools met the dropout goal, with Waco High School at 2.6 percent and University High School at 1.9 percent, but the district’s overall dropout rate went up from 3.4 in 2012-13 to 4.2 percent last year.
The state dropout rate for the 2013-14 school year was 2.2 percent.
McDurham said the principal at Brazos High, Keith Hannah, works tirelessly to retain students, but if they refuse to come to class, they allow the spot to go to someone else.
“Many times it was more than 18 days. He sent letters, contacted parents, tried to hold meetings with the students,” McDurham said.
Despite the soaring dropout rate, McDurham noted, Brazos High now has the highest graduation rate in the school’s history.
The fall 2014 semester saw eight more students graduate than in the fall 2013 semester, from 12 students to 20, Hannah said.
The spring 2014 semester saw 45 students graduate and Hannah said he expects to hit at least 70 graduates this spring.
“The skeptic would say, ‘You’re pushing those kids off the regular high school program into (Brazos) to protect those high schools’ numbers,’ but if they weren’t wildly successful with the kids that were going . . . then there might be something to say to that,” McDurham said. “But that’s not the case. We really were getting those kids out in record numbers.”
Trustee Cary DuPuy said the dropout rate also is misleading because students who transfer to Brazos High and graduate within four years are credited toward the high school they originally attended, while the dropouts are counted for Brazos High.
Students most susceptible to being dismissed are 19- and 20-year-old students who have earned fewer than half their credits and missed the majority of their classes, Hannah said.
Students must earn 22 credits to graduate and can do so at any time throughout the year, he said.
The state allows a student to stay enrolled in public school until age 22, Hannah said.
Brazos High allows students who have fallen behind on high school credits to earn their diploma through self-paced instruction.
Students apply or a school’s administration recommends credit recovery for students falling behind or struggling with discipline or attendance issues.
McDurham said the district decided to allow the dropout policy because even if a student isn’t attending classes, the spot is held and prevents other students from receiving help with credit recovery. Since keeping those students enrolled prevented others from being successful, the administration drops those students to increase the chances for success of those students who attend classes.
“Your ideal Brazos candidate is the kid who’s behind in their credits. And if you’re behind in your credits, you’re part of that number of kids who won’t meet that four-year completion,” McDurham said.
To prevent the dropout rate from rising again this year, McDurham said Brazos High received more support for monitoring attendance.
Everyone, including teachers and counselors, is involved in encouraging students to come to class, she said.
DuPuy said the numbers concern him, but it’s difficult to force anyone to come to class.
“We want kids to stay in and school,” DuPuy said. “We have limited ability to coerce the population into staying in school. But the message needs to be: ‘This is important and you need to finish.’ ”